Ruby Shamir’s national roots began deep in the parched ground of Palestine, and today flourish in a lush nation reborn, the modern state of Israel. A sabra (native) who can trace her family back seven generations, Shamir proudly advocates for her country in a variety of ways, notably as executive director for the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL) Israel office, and director of the League’s International Operations.
“I was born in Israel, in Tel Aviv, and from my mother’s side, our family came to this country in 1811, from Lithuania. My father arrived here when he was three, also from Lithuania,” she says.
Truly, the land is in Ruby Shamir’s DNA. She is the type of Israeli that I enjoy meeting and knowing, because her work is forward thinking, innovative, and positive. In fact, the AIFL’s (www.aifl.org) mission statement reads thus:
“AIFL is dedicated to promoting and strengthening the relationship between the people of the United States and Israel. The AIFL was founded in 1971 by a distinguished group of American civic, political, and religious leaders who foresaw the critical need for preserving America’s best interests in the Middle East. Neither a political nor a sectarian organization, AIFL mobilizes broad support for people-to-people exchanges between Americans and Israelis of all ages and faiths, ethnic backgrounds, and political persuasion. Each Year, AIFL sends delegations to Israel to meet with their Israeli counterparts and visit religious, cultural and archeological sites. These delegations include State Attorneys General, business leaders, scholars, third year law school students, school superintendents, professors of law and Middle Eastern studies.
“Our efforts go beyond delegation exchange. We educate and inform our constituents about the many threats confronting Israel and the US. As advocates for Israel, we work with representatives of the US, the Israeli government and others. In recent years we have developed relationships with Christian and Muslim groups who join us in our missions and endeavors.”
Shamir’s work with the AIFL is multi-dimensional and her plate is full.
“I’ve been with AIFL for 26 years and joined the League because I believed in its mission, meaning getting better understanding between people in Israel and people in the United States. I believe in the cause.”
Shamir, among other things, helps organize and critically and expertly, customize tours/delegations for a variety of groups, including the well-known Youth Ambassador Student Exchange (YASE), closely coordinated with Cassia Anthony.
Shamir’s educational background aids her in handling the work load. She graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in linguistics, and is also a licensed travel agent. She also worked for Tel Aviv University as director for Public Events and Guests of the University (public relations department). She worked there from 1975-1987, when she left to begin her current role.
“Mainly I’m organizing trips, from YASE to state legislators, States Attorneys General, and I’m responsible for organizing all the trips, including government relations between the League and the government.” She is also involved with initiating ministries with the Education Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Shamir is especially pleased with the steady growth of the League’s programs.
“There are more and more delegations every year,” she says. The flagship program of the League is YASE. Over the years, we have initiated new programs, and now have around 10 delegations each year.” Helping tailor itineraries is her specialty, and she suggests programs, after receiving the organizations’ request.
“We have had Christian groups, such as the Presbyterians and Sisters of Mercy. Israel is of interest to people of all faiths; first of all, because of the holy sites, where everyone can find his own spiritual heritage.”
The culture of Israel is of particular interest for Christians, Shamir notes. It is a given, of course, that religious sites are highlights, but the country’s culture diversity makes a lasting impression, too.
“We don’t deal only with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, we also deal with culture. Israel has much to offer, in terms of museums, orchestras, and dance groups.”
An Israeli with Shamir’s experience recognizes those features of the country that impact visitors, whether it is cultural or geographical.
“When groups come to Israel, we try to show them a composite of Israel, all walks of life, Jews and non-Jews, Ethiopians, Israeli Arabs. If we have a request for a meeting with Palestinians, it is very democratic and open.”
A busy 2015 looms for Shamir and the League.
“I hope the league will have more groups from different palaces in the U.S. For instance, we just had a group from Prescott, Arizona, most of them not Jewish, but Christians. There were four Jews and 18 non-Jews. We try to bring the message of Israel not by propaganda, and there is nothing like coming to Israel and seeing things on the ground.
“They [visitors] are all overwhelmed. They are not aware of the fact that Israel is so small, they think it’s much bigger. Overwhelmed with the trip, everyone who comes sees things differently on the ground from what they see in the media in the States. They all say that the media is biased and does not represent the facts as they are.”
In a volatile area of the world, Ruby Shamir shines in a rich setting that sparkles with life, resiliency, and achievement.
She is an example of the best of Israelis, striving to link peoples of all backgrounds and faiths.